Ephesians 2:1-9 is a very frank look at what God saved Christians from and about who we really are as people. Are we good people who need help from God? Or, are we rebellious sinners in desperate need of a Savior? For non-Christians, this is a sobering and honest look at sin and their need for Christ. For Christians, this is a reminder of what we’re saved from, and a rebuke to live for God like we ought to. I hope you find you find this little study helpful!
WHO WE REALLY ARE (Eph 2:1-3):
- Eph 2:1 – And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Right up front, without any preamble, Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they used to be “dead in trespasses and sins,” (Eph 2:1). This is who we are without Christ; not physically dead but spiritually dead. This runs counter to what we want to believe about ourselves. We want to believe we’re “good” people.
However, what standard, or benchmark, are people using when they describe themselves as “good people?” Who says murder is wrong? Who says stealing purses from old ladies is a bad thing? Who says marriage is a sacred covenant, or agreement, between a man and a woman? Who says it is morally wrong to be unfaithful to your spouse? Without an anchor of som
e sort, some objective benchmark to ground morality and human “goodness,” then we’re left with a purely subjective mess.
Scripture teaches that all of creation was made by God, and more specifically that men and women are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27-28). Being His creatures, God’s standard is the benchmark for morality and behavior. Scripture teaches us that we’re not good people. Our entire concept of human morality is built on God’s word (Rom 2:14-15). God’s word tells us we’re dead in trespasses and sins without Christ.
Again, this isn’t something people like to hear. Many Christians like to deny the idea of “total depravity,” typically out of a sinful desire for autonomy from God or as a visceral reaction against what they perceive as Calvinism. As theologian Michael Horton wrote, “. . . pelagianism is the natural religion of humanity!”  Even compromising Christian counselors deny this doctrine. For example, one prominent Christian counselor boldly declares that his end-goal when assisting people through crisis is to restore self-esteem and instill more self-reliance in the individual!  He even goes so far as to declare:
“Jesus’ ministry was one of helping people achieve fullness of life and assisting them in developing their ability to deal with the problems, conflicts and burdens in life.” 
It is difficult to imagine a more un-Biblical and ridiculous concept of Christ’s ministry. So much for repenting and believing in the Gospel (Mk 1:15)! Self-reliance is what doomed Adam and Eve in the Garden; they chose to follow their desires over God’s command. This has been man’s natural state ever since (Rom 5:12-21); we don’t want to rely on God, we want to rely on ourselves.
Consider what Paul wrote in the Book of Romans:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse,” (Rom 1:18-21).
We can see from Paul’s words that knowledge of God is everywhere, but men hold back, crush down and suppress this truth in unrighteousness. We don’t want to acknowledge that God is there, because then we’re accountable for what he says. Paul went on to paint a clear picture of all people, Jew and Gentile, knowing the truth about God but glorifying themselves instead:
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened,” (Rom 1:21).
Also, remember the testimony of Romans 3:9-18, where Paul once again explains the spiritual plight of any unregenerate person, Jew or Gentile. Pay particular attention to these two verses:
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom 3:10).
“There is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom 3:18).
People are not wandering around, desperately seeking God. Spiritual things are foolish to them. I can recall my own father chiding me with a knowing smile when I was on my way to church one Sunday morning,
“Go ahead and go to church,” he said wistfully. “You’ll soon see there’s nothing to all that nonsense. I figured it out. You will too.”
Paul’s words stand true here; “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor 2:14). The fact that any man does seek God is evidence of the Holy Spirit working in your heart
This is what “dead” in trespasses and sins means. It means that unsaved, unregenerate rebel sinners are spiritual corpses. A dead body cannot rise up again! I was a Military Police officer for 10 years and saw many dead bodies in the course of duty; I can assure you none of those bodies was capable of rising up and walking away. They were dead. This is our spiritual condition without Christ; dead and gone without any hope in the world. It means knowing God is there and pushing that knowledge away, crushing it under false hopes, cynicism, etc. Knowing this makes us accountable for our own sin. Our inherent sin places an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Christ came to fill this gap and save sinners who don’t even want to be saved.
- Eph 2:2 – Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Paul continues describing the spiritual state of the Ephesian Christians before their salvation. This also describes modern Christians before they were saved by Christ. It describes you right now if you have not been saved by Christ.
People without Christ walk “according to the prince of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” Christians used to act this way, and were formerly energized and influenced by Satan. Numerous places in Scripture testify that this “prince of the power of the air” is most certainly Satan himself. In Jn 12:31, Christ discloses that by His death on the cross, Satan will be eventually cast out. His hold on people will be broken.  Likewise, in Jn 16:11, Christ comforts His disciples and promises to send the Holy Spirit as a Counselor or Helper for them after He ascended to the Father. Christ explained the role of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life, and said the Holy Spirit convicts men of judgment, because “the prince of this world is judged.”
What Paul says about Satan’s activity is so very important. Satan is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Notice that Paul describes unsaved, rebellious men and women as “children of disobedience.” The natural man is inherently rebellious against God. Satan is active and working in the lives of people who are unsaved and “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” (1 Jn 5:19). He does the same in a Christian’s life. The critical difference is that a Christian doesn’t belong to him anymore.
Romans 6 brings this out quite clearly. A person belongs in either one of two spiritual spheres; to Satan or God. People are by nature “children of disobedience” and belong to Satan without saving faith in Christ. After salvation, a person’s headship or spiritual ownership transfers to God. This is a legal, forensic decision by Christ to declare believers righteous when He is under no obligation to do so! Do you belong to Satan or God today?
- Eph 2:3 – Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Paul goes on, describing our actions before salvation. Our “conversation” (or daily conduct) was about the lusts of the flesh. There was little to no thought about God’s standards, our own sin, and repentance for that sin. We lived our own lives for ourselves, not for God who created us. Our goal was to fulfill our own desires of the flesh and the mind. We know when bad and sinful things pop into our minds. We’ve all acted on some of these thoughts and made mistakes we’ve regretted and done things we’re not proud of. All of us know our hearts, and realize we’re sinful people. We all know about this gap between us and God.
Again, Paul makes no apologies for portraying men and men as the rebellious sinners they are. He writes that we are “by nature the children of wrath.” We are born as rebellious sinners, suppressing the truth and knowledge of God. It is our natural state. You and I weren’t born with a disposition to obey God and worship Him as Lord! We were born with a disposition to sinful thoughts and actions, which are opposed to God in every possible way!
“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not,” (Ecc 7:20).
This doesn’t mean that unsaved people aren’t nice people who do nice things. It does mean that, because of our rebellious, sinful nature, nothing we do gains us any points with God in any way. It is a matter of perspective. It’s a matter of standards.
“Depravity as a doctrine does not stand or fall on the ground of man’s estimation of himself; it rather reflects God’s estimation of man.” 
By our own standards, I like to think I’m a pretty good guy. By God’s standard, I’m a rebellious sinner. We’re not sinners by our actions; we’re sinners by our very nature. This encompasses both thoughts and actions.
WHAT CHRIST DID FOR US (Eph 2:4-6):
- Eph 2:4 – But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
- Eph 2:5 – Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
- Eph 2:6 – And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
Think about the significance of this small word, “but.”  God is “rich in mercy.” He didn’t have to provide a way of salvation for us, but He did anyway. He was not obligated to do this. Our just punishment for rebellion is instant destruction. So many Christians have a small conception of our just and Holy God. They emphasize God’s love, but denigrate His holiness and terribly underestimate the depths of human sinfulness. This salvation He provided showed the “great love” He has for us. This is undeserved love. Because we’re spiritually dead to God, His love is shown by the fact that He even bothered with us in the first place. Again, salvation in Christ transfers us from one category to another – from Satan’s control to God’s control. Sin no longer has absolute dominion over a Christian; this is a promise unbelievers cannot claim as their own:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Rom 6:14).
What does this tell us about God? He is holy, loving and just. We are sinful, rebellious and undeserving people. We should praise His name in every aspect of our lives.
Paul writes that this salvation in Christ “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). He is reminding the Ephesians, and us, about where our future home is. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth (1 Pet 2:11), ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). This world is not our eternal home; our hope is beyond this temporal world:
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself,” (Phil 3:20-21).
If we call ourselves Christians, we ought to act and think like it! We don’t have to bring sacrifices to an altar as an offering for God anymore; the ceremonial law has passed away in this dispensation. Instead, Paul tell us our reasonable service is to offer ourselves to God (Rom 12:1). This is the only proper response to the glorious gift of salvation.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” (Rom 12:1).
God desires to be worshipped in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24). Our duty is to try our level best to fulfill this calling, looking forward to glorious eternity when we can do so, without possibility of sin.
WHY HE DID IT (Eph 2:7-9):
- Eph 2:7 – That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Paul reminds us what God’s entire purpose in human history is. Some people believe the main point, or synopsis, of Scripture is that God saves us from sin. This is man-centered thinking and it is terribly wrong. It isn’t about us; it’s about Him. The entire arc of Scripture is about God bringing about His kingdom for His glory.
Christ’s sacrifice for sinners demonstrated His great love. But what was the point of Christ’s sacrifice? Why did God provide a way of salvation and elect to save anybody at all? For our sake? Surely not! He did it so that it would glorify His name and lead a grateful and undeserving people to worship Him the way we ought to have done all along – the way He deserves to be worshipped. Consider the following Scripture passages which plainly show that God works in human history for His own glory, not our own:
- “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise,” (Isa 43:19-21). Isaiah is speaking once again of the future restoration of Israel, for His own sake.
- “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins,” (Isa 43:25). God promises to restore Israel and blot out her former sins for His sake, not theirs.
- “And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified,” (Isa 49:3). This is an excerpt from one of the so-called Servant Songs in Isaiah, describing the future work of Christ the Messiah. It is clear that Christ’s work will glorify the Father, not men.
- “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went,” (Eze 36:22). Again, this shows why God will act in the future to restore Israel.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and our salvation isn’t about us. It’s about God, and the honor and glory due to Him. So few Christians have any idea what the phrase “grace of God” even means. To them, Jesus is a Sunday School character sitting on a green field, surrounded by fluffy white sheep with a child on His lap and a dove floating above Him in the sky! Christians must be committed to really deepen their faith and move beyond crayon Christianity and really understand and appreciate who God is, and reorient our lives to show it.
- Eph 2:8 – For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
- Eph 2:9 – Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We are saved by grace through faith, which is unmerited or undeserved favor. Salvation is a gift from God, and Christians did not earn or deserve this gift in any way. I’ll turn from Ephesians at this point, and briefly discuss what the Gospel actually is. I’ve referenced it enough in this little paper, and it must be heard.
I believe there is one verse from the Gospel of Mark that is the clearest, most comprehensive passage on salvation in the Scripture:
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” (Mk 1:14-15).
This is the simplest Gospel verse in the Bible. Salvation isn’t a fast food menu where anybody can pick what they like. You can’t pick and choose from a potpourri of man-made religions, choose whichever suits you best and receive your own version of salvation when you roll forward to the pick-up window. God does not present an inclusivist view in Scripture:
- “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” (Jn 14:6).
- “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12).
Salvation entails both repentance and belief, or saving faith. Repentance means a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is also so much more than mere regret. Repentance is genuine sorrow for one’s sin, accompanied by a resolution to turn from it. It is sorrow for one’s sin because of the wrong done to God and the hurt inflicted upon Him. In other words, there must be a real alteration of the inner person. This is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts; Ezekiel described this process as God changing a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19-20).
Salvation is also about believing in the Gospel, placing saving faith in Christ. Saving faith is understanding what Christ did for you in an intellectual and emotional way, and acting on it. It is more than some cold, intellectual understanding. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” (Jas 2:19).
It does include intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”). However, it also includes emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”). And finally, it is voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).
We cannot save ourselves. Dead people can’t do much of anything. Dead men can’t cooperate with God in salvation, in some kind of ridiculous synergistic fashion. We are totally dependent on the grace of God for our salvation, and I wish more preachers would bring this marvelous truth out. Praise Him that He provided Christ for sinners. He didn’t have to.
1. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims Along on Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 561.
2. H. Norman Wright, The Complete Guide to Crisis & Trauma Counseling: What To Do And Say When It Matters Most! (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2011), 183.
3. Ibid, 24.
4. Edwin A. Blum, John, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 318. “The Cross was also the means of Satan’s defeat. The prince of this world, Jesus said, will be driven out. His power over people by sin and death was defeated and they can now be delivered out of his domain of spiritual darkness and slavery to sin.”
5. Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 7:119. “Theologians employ the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.” Emphasis mine.
6. Ibid, 2:219.
7. Grateful for this insight to John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians & Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), 63.
8. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 623. “Since sinners are spiritually dead toward God, they have nothing to commend them to God. This is why Paul described this love as being ‘great.’ ”
9. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 950.